Natural Stone Architecture: Natural Bridges National Monument, UT

Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area in southeastern Utah. It is rather remote and not close to other parks, and as a result is not heavily visited.

A trail into the canyon underneath Owachomu Natural Bridge is a short distance from the overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches, which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden, whereas arches are usually high and exposed, as they are often the last remnants of rock cliffs and ridges.

Unlike Arches National Park, with over 2,000 classified arches, there are only three bridges here. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

The pinyon and juniper covered mesa is bisected by deep canyons, exposing the Permian Age Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Where meandering streams cut through sandstone walls, three large natural bridges were formed.

At an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level, Natural Bridges is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Plants range from the fragile cryptobiotic soil crusts to remnant stands of Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. Hanging gardens in moist canyon seep springs and numerous plants flower in the spring.

Animals range from a variety of lizards, toads, and an occasional rattlesnake, to peregrine falcons, mountain lions, bobcats, and black bear.

Meandering streams cut through sandstone walls to create Kachina Bridge..© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds).

Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge. An 8.6-mile hiking trail links the three natural bridges, which are located in two adjacent canyons.

Owachomu is probably the most spectacular, and also the easiest to reach. The trail into the canyon underneath the bridge is a short distance from the overlook. It is the oldest bridge in the park, and rock falls have reduced the thickness to only 9 feet, so it may not be here much longer. Needless to say, walking on top of the bridges is not allowed.

The visitor center is open year-round. It has a slide program, exhibits, publications, and postcards.

Electricity at the natural Bridges Visitors Center is provided by solar energy. The photovoltaic power system dedicated in 1980 was the world’s largest solar system at the time.

Hiking trails link the three natural bridges which are in two adjacent canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water and flush toilets are available at the visitor center.

Did You Know?
President Theodore Roosevelt established Natural Bridges National Monument in 1908, making it the oldest National Park Service site in the state of Utah.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Details

Elevation: 6,500 feet

Operating hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Location: 42 miles west of Blanding off Highway 95

Admission: $6/vehicle (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Camping: $10/night; all sites first-come, first-served

Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails or anywhere in the backcountry

Contact: (435) 692-1234

Address: HC-60 Box 1, Lake Powell, Utah 84533

Worth Pondering…

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare

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